Garden shed – from concept to completion
This versatile addition is a personalized sanctuary, storage in style, covering a host of needs. It’s also a really satisfying one- or two-person project.
You can only bang your head so often, stumbling backwards out an overly low and narrow doorway while trying to deftly guide a fistful of whatever past obstacles to avoid the inevitable crashing avalanche of tools and pots before something has to give. Tin garden huts are fine for storing small stuff, but if you want a space you can spend time in, making a proper shed to suit your needs and style is surprisingly easy.
Researching shed/barn styles online, in books and magazines reveals a lot of potentials, mostly defined by roof line: gambrel, saltbox, colonial, etc. Deciding on a style, there’s plenty of scope to build and customize to suit your needs and preferences.
Our total cost, including taxes, was about $5800. As for timeline, from drawings to putting padlocks on the doors my wife and I spent a little over two months building this shed. It wasn’t full-time work for us, as we had to work it around our other commitments and the weather. Most of the work could be done by one person, but a second pair of hands was necessary from time to time.
Level it Out
By using future rim joists and a spirit level you can assure the beds are flat and level.
The Right Depth
A moveable 4” wide board helps you to gauge the depth of stone.
Ready for Flooring
With the joists spanning the skids, and capped by the rim joists, you can add blocking, joist hangers and landscape cloth.
The First Wall
Once it was built in three sections, and erected, Salusbury joined them together and braced them.
With the second wall built in two sections it can be positioned and screwed in place. Screws through cladding draw this wall tight to the rim-joists. Notice the third wall on the floor, ready to be erected.
Salusbury laid the floor, then set up some blocking to assist with assembling the trusses. Here, the first truss is ready to be removed.
The end walls are now secured in place, and both have the upper layer of top plate installed. A temporary middle wall-bridge is also installed.
Salusbury is now ready to flip the completed gable-end, and extension, in place. It will be fixed in place with a temporary stop brace.
To locate the trusses, Salusbury notched the cladding where the trusses overhang.
Long material secured to the underside of the rafters secures the trusses in place.
Sub-fascia on the ends of the rafters supports the sheathing and soffit, and the soon-to-be-applied fascia.
Gable detail, showing soffits and rough-sawn trim and battens stained to match the cladding. Notice the angled edge of the horizontal member, aiding in water runoff.
Plywood splines align and strengthen joints between door planks.
Doors are ready for installation, with their inner faces shown at left, and outer faces shown at right.
Machined Window Frames
Window sills, jambs and stops are ready for assembly.
Machined and assembled jambs and sills. The sills overlap the exterior of the shed, and provide a pleasing visual detail.
Once the window trim is secured in place you can see how the sill extensions play into the overall look. Notice the drip edge under the sill.
Nicely fitting doors are installed and ready for use.
Critter screening allows airflow, but deters unwanted occupants.
Salusbury decided to add a trio of small squares to the corners of the door frames. It is details like these that you and others will notice for years to come.
We wanted a colonial style that matched the architecture of our home and workshop and offered floor space, access and head-room to store our garden tractor and attachments, plus garden tools and seasonal furniture and a bright space for tinkering or potting at a bench area. Double-doors at both ends will provide ample access.
We photocopied a picture of the style of shed we were considering, along with a copy of our property survey, and headed off to get a building permit at our township office. Working with a permit has many advantages. You get setback, siting and construction advice to meet local codes. Local officials can be really helpful regarding taxation and new methods and materials, often saving money, steps, materials and labour, especially if you are new to building. For instance, we learned that a building less than 200 square feet is not subject to municipal taxes in our area. Working with a permit is also valuable with regard to insurance, plus it adds plenty of equity to your property when it comes time to sell; realtors get the most from a code-conforming property they can list confidently.
Time for drawings
Once permitted to build, drawings were the foundation for everything to follow. Mainly an analog guy, I work to a scale of 1″=1′ on graph paper. First the floor plan showing joists and rim joists under-laid by the skid foundation. With outside dimensions established, I then drew the west window wall, the height driven by my wish to use full 8′ sheets of plywood cladding to extend from the rim of the top plate to overlap the floor and joists 3-3/4″ at the bottom. The 3/4″ floor was drawn 3″ up from the bottom. Next, the bottom plate was added, then a double top-plate flush with the top. Double studs were drawn in at each corner, 16″ on center along the wall, then sill plates, jack studs and headers for each window. I’ll make my own windows and doors so I’m free to draw rough openings as I please; otherwise, factory-made elements would have governed the size of rough openings. To keep labour manageable, I designed to build and assemble the wall in three parts to be joined once erect. Next, I did a drawing for the windowless east wall, designed to go up in three sections. Lastly, the identical north and south walls required only one drawing, showing the 60″ wide door opening. Knowing the final width of the shed, drawing out the trusses and gable ends came next, showing all lengths, angles and components. Other drawings would follow to plan and rehearse each phase of construction and, most importantly, develop a materials list so we could shop for supplies without waste or shortage.
On site we staked out the sheds boundary with string; 10′ wide and 19′-9″ long. The plot we selected is level with well drained, firm soil and is away from the roots and branches of trees; an excellent base for a stable foundation, unaffected by movement and the damaging effects of roots, overhanging branches and mould-promoting shade.
A skid foundation suits our site well, is easy and inexpensive to create and allows for adjustment and levelling precisely. Getting the foundation perfectly aligned and level cannot be over-stressed. Accuracy here will make all future steps easier and more enduring.
To make the two skids, I use 20′ stock. I laminated three 19′-9″ lengths of pressure-treated (PT) 2 × 6″ beams using generous ribbons of PL Premium construction adhesive and 3″ coated deck screws. These I assembled on the flat concrete floor of my garage for best alignment and left to cure overnight.
From our site’s center line length, we measured 40″ on either side and two 22′ long trenches wider than our garden rake, 6″ deep and 80″ center to center. A flat-bladed transfer shovel produced square-sided, flat bottomed trenches with no soil disturbance; keeping the soil firm beneath is important. Using a 4″ wide board on edge as a fill gauge, we added 4″ of crushed limestone for drainage. With the gauge board removed, we used our rim joists (same width as our skids) on edge to check for elevation and level, both along the lengths and spanning from trench to trench; tamping, levelling and re-tamping with our garden rake, creating sound beds for each skid. Next, the cured skids are accurately centered 81″ apart on the stone beds and anchored by hammering 24″ lengths of rebar through previously drilled holes spaced about 30″ apart. We then filled and tamped around each skid with more gravel. Landscape cloth was laid over the entire shed footprint and beyond to deter plant growth.
We spaced the 10′ long PT floor joists 16″ on center across the tops of the skids, aligning marks at 40-1/2″ from the center of each joist with the center of each skid. Next we toe-screwed only the two end joists to the skids using 3″ construction screws, leaving the remainder loose. We then bridged the end joists with our rim joists, followed by screwing through the rim joists into the ends of each floor joist, carefully aligning each joist with the 16″ center marks along each rim joist’s length. All joists being equal lengths, it’s easy to produce a regular shape once assembled, but we took our time measuring across-corners on both axes to assure a square footprint. Tweaking can be done by unscrewing one end-joist from the skid, tapping the joist/rim joist assembly to perfection then re-screwing once corner-to-corner lengths are identical. We stretched a string taut over the rim joists length and tuned both perfectly straight. Satisfied, we toe-screwed all joists to the skids, then installed galvanized joist hangers, using coded hanger nails, at each joist/rim-joist union and inside corner plates within the outside corners.
We then installed 2 × 6″ PT blocking between each floor joist along the center of the framework and 4′ on either side of center. I plan on driving and parking machinery in our shed so I want a floor that’s strong and stiff, plus has good nailing surface all around the 3/4″ exterior-grade plywood flooring sheets. Sanded on one face, it will finish well and be very durable. We centered and laid full sheets of plywood parallel to the joists, adding 2′ strips parallel along each rim joist, each panel applied with generous ribbons of PL deck adhesive along every joist edge and 1-3/4″ coated screws every 12″. Then, where needed, we trimmed the ply back 3/8″ within the floor frame margins using a circular saw and straightedge guide, assuring good joist-to-cladding contact later.
Make the roof trusses
The finished floor makes a perfect surface for jigging and assembling the roof trusses. My design was for a 30° roof pitch with the bottom chord 10′ across, matching the shed’s width. Using a mitre saw with some stop blocks, I cut precise multiples of all the truss components. On the shed floor, we laid out two rafters and a bottom chord exactly as they would be assembled, screwing them to the floor. Then we installed temporary blocking at key points, forming a jig the rest of the assemblies could be pressed into to yield 11 identical trusses. Fitted within the jig, each set was joined using plywood gussets applied with PL Premium and 1-1/4″ coated screws, first on one side then flipped to do the other, excepting the two gable end trusses, which require gussets on only one side; they will receive gable extensions later. Roof trusses are spaced 24″ on centers so we only needed 11 trusses in total.
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With the trusses assembled and stacked out of the way, we turned to making the walls. To keep them manageable we made the west window-wall and the east solid wall in three sections. The 2 × 6″ headers and 2 × 4″ corner studs were laminated with 1/2″ ply between, yielding strong units the same thickness as the width of the studs they would join to. Assembled and clad while lying on the shed floor, each section went up one by one, drawn to the previous section by clamps and initially held vertical with screws every 16″ through the cladding and into the rim joists followed by screwing the sections together top to bottom and temporarily bracing plumb. With the long walls erect and braced, the end walls were framed on the shed floor, then lifted/swung, unsheathed, into place snug between each of the long walls, replacing the temporary braces one end at a time. To make these walls manageable during installation, we framed each with their bottom plate running the full length of the wall, spanning the door opening; these will be cut out later when the door is to be installed. Leaving the end walls unclad until installed made them easier to heft. Once erect, the narrow cladding strips will bridge the ends of the long wall and cladding, tying the walls together.
Install the trusses
With the end walls installed, I capped the top plate with a 2 × 6 rather than a 2 × 4 so I could overlap at the corners for a stiffer joint and a broader fastening surface for the trusses to secure to. Then, with a spare 2 × 6, we temporarily bridged the midpoints of the two long walls, maintaining a consistent distance between each along their lengths, making installation of the trusses a snap.
Before the trusses go up we make and add the gable extensions to the gable-end trusses. Six-inch blocks between 2 × 4 rafters cut the same as the rest of the truss rafters produces a 9″ extension, complementary to the 14″ deep soffits the trusses will yield. The four extensions get fastened flush with the outer face of the gable-end truss rafters.
To mount the trusses, we marked out where each of the trusses would sit along the long wall’s top plates. As our structure is 19′-9″ long to stay beneath 200 sq. ft., we measured 24″ on center in from each end then centered the middle truss. Because the rafters will extend down 30° beyond the walls, I nibbled out notches in the cladding where the trusses would sit. To support the end gable truss, a temporary brace fastened vertically above the door opening, left short enough to not interfere with the gable end extension, is fastened first. Next, the gable ends with extensions attached are lifted, inverted, one rafter at a time, to straddle the walls’ top plates and roughly centered. Hanging upside down with their extensions facing inward, they are easily swung upward by two people until they rest against the vertical brace, flush with the outside of the end wall and nudged into place. With the trusses’ bottom chord exactly matching the width of the structure, each truss dropped in place and aligned effortlessly. Once located, toe-screw both ends through the bottom chord into the top plates with 3″ construction screws.
Once both gable end truss assemblies were installed, we inverted and flipped the rest of the trusses, stacking half against each end gable. Then it was a simple job to slide a truss along the top plate to its location, align its chord tips to match the top plate edges, quickly check for “square” and “plumb” then screw it to the top plates. A low scaffold and a 10 ft. ladder were a big help during this part of the project and for installing sheathing and roofing. Trusses installed, strapping bridging all trusses near their peaks will hold them vertical and equally spaced until the roof sheathing is applied.
Next we remove the oh-so useful temporary mid-wall bridging. Outside, we screwed 2 × 4 sub-fascia across all the rafter ends, capping the rafter ends and providing support and a nailing surface for the roof sheathing, plus a base for both the soffit and fascia trim pieces.
We now applied the 1/2″ ply roof sheathing, beginning with temporarily attaching short blocks of 2 × 4 on edge to the sub-fascia as a gauge. We aligned the sheathing with the outer face of the 2 × 4 so the sheathing will overhang the sub fascia 1-1/2″; 3/4″ for fascia trim plus a 3/4″ drip edge. We worked from the center toward the gable ends and from the sub-fascia upward to the peak. Each sheet was screwed down with coated 1-1/4″ screws every 12″, the vertical joints staggered and the lateral joints reinforced with 1/2″ “H” plywood sheathing clips bridging the sheathing, centered between each truss.
Shingling begins by laying a starter course of shingles with the tabs directed inwards, along the roof edges and up and over the gable ends. We secured them with four 1-1/4″ roofing nails per shingle, allowing the edge of this course to overhang the sheathing 1/2″. The first course of shingles is then applied with the joints staggered half a tab but directly on top of the starter strip, the bottom edges aligned. We worked our way the length of the roof, then started the next course by shifting shingles half a tab upwards, aligning the bottom edge of the shingles just below the root of the tabs of the previous course. Working accurately, we checked our progress regularly by measuring the edges of the shingles every couple of courses relative to a lateral sheathing joint, ensuring we installed each course parallel to both the fascia and roof peak.
At the ridge, I wrapped the shingles +/-2″ over the peak and nailed them down on the opposing face. The same resulted on each side of the roof. Along the peak I then applied the ridge course, cutting shingles into tab-width strips, applying one, then overlapping each strip leaving about 5″ of the previous tab exposed. This course I nailed down with 2″ roofing nails.
Always be accurate
It was about at this point of construction we realized how being accurate at each stage of construction makes it easier to do the next step; the building actually helps you by being just as you need it to complete the next phase. It was really satisfying to realize we were “gnat’s whisker” accurate at the completion of each stage of construction, building on previous precision.
With the shingling completed and the gable end shingles trimmed to a 1/2″ overhang, it’s time to begin the trim phase beginning with the soffits and eves vents. But now is a perfect time to paint the shed floor; while it’s drying we can make and finish trim, doors and windows. Two coats of tan flooring enamel will protect the floor and make cleaning up spills a snap.
A bit about painting
We choose to use wooden trim but dread repairing blistering, peeling paint, so we have adopted a couple solutions to allay those fears: overall sealing and solid body stain. We first used these methods when we built my wood-clad and trimmed workshop 17 years ago, which has yet to require any paint repairs anywhere. We prime/seal all surfaces of all wood, after it has been cut to size, and prior to installation, using the most appropriate sealer/primer for the material and its planned use. For the pine trim we used exterior stain/pitch blocking primer overall, then painted all faces, ends and edges that would be exposed with two coats of quality exterior paint. For the 5/8″ plywood cladding, we primed all surfaces after it had been installed so we could seal the interior wall studs at the same time, followed by a colour coat of exterior solid-body stain, rather than paint for its breathability; white on the interior surfaces and coloured outside. The battens, ripped from 7/8″ utility pine, were primed/sealed overall with the same pitch blocking product as the pine trim, then stained, overall, with the same breathable exterior solid-body stain as the exterior of the ply cladding. By sealing all faces and ends prior to installation, the wood is almost impervious to absorbing atmospheric moisture inside or out, plus it is kept in equilibrium, minimizing the potential for movement, warping or bowing over time.
For air flow, we chose continuous soffit vent strips as intake and gable-end vents for exhaust. With the 2″ vent strips in hand we measured and ripped 1/2″ ply parts to make the soffit stock, which we trimmed to length and fit once primed and painted. At the same time, we painted the two store-bought gable end vents and installed them.
We then cut, dry-fit, numbered, primed and painted the fascia parts and installed that all around. As the fascia stock is the same sort of material as the trim for windows and doors we cut it roughly to length, eased the edges and primed and painted it at the same time, setting it aside for later, cut ends to be sealed just prior to installation.
Meanwhile, batten stock and edge trim for under the soffit, and to bridge the joint between the top of the end walls and the gable-end was ripped, primed and stained. Once it was ready, we installed it 16″ on center directly opposite the wall studs within, except for those that would meet the yet-to-be-made doors and windows.
Door and window details
Doorways and windows are simple sub-assemblies. A doorway is a jamb supporting the door(s); a window is a jamb supporting a sash. The doorjamb consists of a head jamb, two side jambs and a threshold. A window is the same, short of swapping a sill for a threshold. Both are based on the shed’s rough opening dimensions.
For jamb stock, 4-1/2″ wide 1 x 5 material will span the walls thickness of 3-1/2″ studs plus the 5/8″ thick cladding plus 3/8″ for the thickness of potential interior wall board. I chose select pine for this application.
Make door jambs
To make door jambs, I took my 78″ tall x 60″ wide rough opening and subtracted 1/4″ for shimming the top and each side. Side jamb elements then are to be 77-3/4″ tall and head jamb 58-3/4″ to set into 3/8″ deep dados in the side jambs, yielding an inner jamb height of 76-1/2″ and inner and outer jamb widths of 58″ and 59-1/2″, respectively. As my threshold will be within the side jamb, I know to trim it to 58″ once I’ve ripped and planed its profile.
Thresholds must serve several functions. They have to be durable; offer a broad outer face for the doors to seal against, blocking wind, weather and rodents; they need a ramping profile inside so stuff can roll over them easily, plus provide a broad flat top surface to support a pair of portable ramps I use to drive rolling stock from ground level up into the shed. From rough 8/4 flat-sawn ash milled to 1-3/4″ x 6″, I created a 1″ external vertical face crowned by a 5/8″ wide x 30° chamfer transitioning to a 4″ wide top surface then a 1-3/4″ wide x 30° downward slope leading to a 5/8″ internal vertical face.
Make the doors
To keep the entry as wide as possible, the doors will overlap the jamb and threshold; 3/8″ top and each side and 3-3/4″ below the threshold to align with the bottom of the wall cladding once installed. Allowing for 1/8″ clearance above and on the sides of each door, my 77-3/4″ tall doors combined outside width will be 58-3/8″, making the individual doors 29-3/16″. I ripped each door plank to 7-5/16″ for equality. Next, using a dado set, I ripped 3/8″ × 1/2″ deep rabbets in what would be the joined edges to receive 1″ wide continuous splines ripped from 3/8″ exterior-grade fir ply. With the planks joined and excess glue pared away, I selected 4-1/2″ × 3/4″ pine for the “Z” braces. All cross braces are the same length, cut 4″ short of each door’s width allowing clearance along each edge for the jamb overlap and a 2″ wide sealing strip applied inside each left-hand door for the right-hand door to close against. The mid-brace is centered and the upper and lower ones located 6″ in from the doors’ ends, thus all diagonal braces could be cut exactly the same length and angle to fit snuggly. Titebond III glue and 1-1/4″ coated screws fasten the braces across the door planks. I feel pine is elastic enough to get away with this; if I had used a hardwood, I would have allowed for seasonal movement across the planks, merely screwing the braces on through expansion slots. After priming and painting, 6″ T-hinges will be screwed to the doors’ face, opposing the center line of the cross braces for plenty of screw depth using 1-1/2″ #12 screws.
Construct the windows
With the doors drying, I made the three matching awning style windows. Again beginning with the rough opening dimensions, 24″ tall and 48″ wide and again using 1 x 5 stock to make the side and head jamb elements. To begin, I cut the head jambs 47-1/2″ long, then cross-cut a 3/8″ × 3/4″ rabbet on each end to receive the side jambs.
Next, the sills must be of thicker stock so a 10° slope can be ripped on the outer face to shed moisture and a 1/4″ deep drip groove ripped underneath to stop moisture migration. Considering wall thickness, from straight-grained, rough 6/4 select pine, I dressed it down to 1-1/4″ × 5-3/4″. For length, by adding 6″ to my 48″ rough opening, I can create 3″ sill extensions on each side, totalling 54″. Extensions visually support window side trim plus an apron beneath. Next, measuring 23″ either side from the center, I lay out for 1/2″ deep x 3/4″ wide dados to receive the side jambs. With the dados cross-cut, at the bandsaw it’s time to cut away the sill material beyond the dados the same 4-1/2″ width as the jambs to produce the sill extensions.
Now I know the length to cut the side jambs to produce an overall jamb/sill height of 23-1/2″.
With all parts cut to length, I ripped a 3/8″ deep by 3/4″ wide groove in all to receive 3/4″ × 3/4″ strips for the window stops. Here I want the outer face of the stops to be 1-1/2″ in from the outer face of the jamb, the thickness of my planned sash.
I assemble, glue and screw the jamb and sill assemblies together, aligning the stop channels by dry fitting 3/4″ stock into each corner during assembly. Stop stock will be trimmed to length and fitted once the frame has cured.
From my completed jamb dimensions, I can make my sashes from select straight-grained stock milled 1-1/2″ thick. Upper and lower sash rails will be 2-1/2″ wide to carry hinges and locking hardware and also offer a broad joint surface at each corner. Side stiles will be 1-1/2″ wide. An awning-style window with 3 mm glass of this size is quite light so there’s no need to make it more robust. I’ll be making precise open mortise and tenon joinery with 3/4″ tenons, so I trimmed rails and stiles the full inside width and height dimensions of the jambs less 1/4″, taking my stiles measurement from under the head jamb to where the side jambs contact the slope on the sill outside. Once the rails and stiles were assembled, squared and glued with Titebond III, I ripped the lower rail to mate with the sill angle. I then routed a 3/8″ × 1″ rabbet within the sash, squaring the corners with a chisel to receive the glass, which, once bedded will be backed with 3/8″ × 3/4″ pine strips. After mating each sash to a jamb, I located and marked out my hinges along the top sash rail, transferred the marks to the mating jamb, routed and pared the hinge mortises then fitted and installed the hinges. After fitting and refining the sashes for a fine fit within each jamb, all were disassembled, primed and painted, ready to receive glass once dry.
Time for trim
With windows and doors completed, it’s time to install each, trim them, and install the final battens. After weeks of preparation it’s all about to come together in a flurry. Windows first…
From inside the shed I drilled holes through the cladding exactly within each corner of the rough openings. Outside, I joined the holes with a pencil line and straightedge. Cutting along each line, I opened the rough opening for the first time to receive the windows. The sill extensions stop the window at the bottom and a temporary block installed outside, once the window was slid into place, will keep the window on the same plane as the cladding during installation. Shims (laminate counter-top samples) between the sash and frame keep the sash centered while cedar shims are inserted between the frame and rough opening. Once square and plumb, the frames are screwed into place with a couple of 3″ construction screws spaced along each frame face and into the rough opening. An hour later I had three windows installed. With the trim already cut to length, primed and painted, in another hour I had all the windows trimmed and ready for the remaining battens to be cut and installed. Each batten, above and below each window, was measured and cut from already prepared longer batten stock. Once dry fit, I sealed the cut ends and secured them into place, 16″ on center as before using coated 1-3/4″ screws.
A slightly different process was required for the doors. Because the hinges had to mount on top of the trim, the trim had to be precisely installed first for proper clearance around each pair of doors. With the jamb/threshold assemblies installed within the rough opening, I lightly marked the exact center of the finished opening on the face of the head jamb. I then centered and secured the head trim followed by the side trim, overlapping the jamb 3/8″, resulting in a working clearance 3/8″ wider than the combined doors width. To install the doors, I secured a temporary ledger flush with the bottom of the wall cladding. The doors rest on this, creating horizontal alignment and 1/8″ clearance on top, while allowing me to center and space the doors laterally one by one. I had applied the hinges to the doors previously so all I needed to do was align a door between the center of the opening and the edge of the side trim then mark, drill and screw the hinges in place; left door first then the overlapping right door.
Lastly, to deter “critters” from taking up residency under our shed, yet offer our structure generous drying airflow, we applied screening all around the shed. From a roll of 1/2″ × 1/2″ squared galvanized wire fencing we cut strips wide enough to cover the exposed vertical face of the joists, down to the ground then out about 8″, flush with the margins of the landscapers cloth we’d spread when we secured the skids. These we fitted and stapled all around the shed, folding the surplus out, flush with the ground, overlapping each strip generously at their ends. Using landscapers nails, we secured the screening to the ground at regular intervals then covered the top of the screening along the joists with strips of 3″ × 5/8″ shop-made trim from the same PT as the joists. We’ll cover the screening with rocks when we landscape … air in, critters out!
Finishing touches … personalizing anything you create makes it unique and reminds you it’s yours every time you see it. I included a cluster of three squares, proud of the surface of my trim above each window and door. Like the glint in an eye, they add life. We were so pleased that our building inspector noticed them first and commented favourably before giving our project a resounding pass.